Representatives of vacuum cleaner companies encourage hardware, home center

Retailers in the do-it-yourself, home-center and hardware channels increasingly are finding opportunities to boost sales by offering consumers key floor-care products.

The merchandising strategies vary from positioning the category as tools to including floor-care products in an expanded housewares section.

For most retailers in these channels, successful floor-care programs center on the wet/dry, handheld and upright segments.

“The hardware channel is a different animal,” explained Jim Holcomb, vice president of marketing for Royal Appliance, “and it’s most noticeable in certain markets. In small towns for example, these stores serve as the general retailer. So floor care tends to do very well.”

Outside these markets, Holcomb and other vendors said, segments such as wet/dry and handheld are key. “These [types of products] are naturals for the hardware channel,” Holcomb added.

Moreover, the category offers these retailers a chance to enjoy margins that are higher than in other segments. Industry sources said the average price points of upright vacs continue to climb. These are the industry’s best sellers, available in a variety of channels.

Hardware, DIY and home-center retailers can compete with these uprights, but they can differentiate themselves with the specialty products that garner higher price points, and margins.

Dave Baker, vice president of marketing for Hoover, suggested “staying away from the rat race of the low end.”

“I think the strength for these channels is in the mid-price and high-end segments,” Baker said. “And there’s also a more direct link to extractors, which is more of a tool than an appliance.”

Extractors, or deep cleaners, are ideal products for these channels, vendors said, because these units naturally complement the consumer mind-set of a do-it-yourselfer. Baker also said there are crossover opportunities with certain floor-care products in these channels.

“Many of these retailers sell hardwood flooring,” Baker said. “So why not sell products, such as a Floormax, that are designed to clean and maintain the floors?”

The Hoover Floormax is a hard-surface cleaner made to clean, scrub, polish and buff surfaces such as tile, linoleum, terrazzo and sealed hardwood floors.

Eureka and Bissell also make several products that fill this niche. Eureka’s Enviro Steamer is a hard-surface cleaner that uses steam to tackle dirt on sealed flooring. Bissell’s Steam N’ Clean now comes equipped with a cleaning wand for use on hard-surface flooring.

“It’s a whole turnkey approach,” Baker explained.

With uprights, Holcomb suggested that retailers stick with the more heavily advertised items.

“Don’t stock obscure products,” Holcomb said. “I’d stay with the big sellers.”

For the smaller hardware retailer, carrying one or two SKUs in each segment might be best. At Barton’s Hardware in New York City, the floor-care mix included two uprights, a compact canister, three stick vacs, a wet/dry and a steam cleaner.

The uprights were two Eureka models, one with a soft bag. Price points were on the high end, but that’s not unusual for a retailer located in a busy metropolitan area.

The assortment was positioned with a wide offering of replacement bags, belts and filters. There were more than 25 of these replacement and accessory SKUs displayed. The category was approached the same way as power tools and accessories.

Larger retailers tend to run similar floor-care programs. But several are slowly shifting the mix to include it in an expanded housewares section. And it seems to be working.

The American Hardware Manufacturers Association tracks point-of-sale activity with retailers such as TruServ and Ace Hardware. The association publishes a segmentized, quarterly index report. Since AHMA has been tracking P.O.S. activity, the housewares index is “one of the strongest-performing departmental indices,” according to the association.

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